Towelhead

Towelhead

1.0 out of 51.0 out of 51.0 out of 51.0 out of 5 1.0

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In politics and the media, there’s always talk about people being too distracted to focus on the real issues affecting their lives, and for a split second after the Towelhead Great American Beauty Scream Machine finally comes to a screeching halt, you get the sense that Alan Ball may have actually wanted to sincerely articulate legitimate political frustrations. But does the film’s allusive, almost intelligent end justify its abhorrent means? A kissing cousin of Todd Field and Todd Solondz, Ball suffocates audiences with a guttersniping view or suburban life, a Haggassian act of exploitation that misrepresents even the most fundamental modes of human interaction.

Centered around the “sexual awakening” of a 13-year-old mixed-race girl, Jasira (Summer Bishil), who’s exiled to live with her Lebanese father in Houston, Towelhead teaches us nothing except that close contact with Ball should probably be avoided at all costs. No detail is genuinely keyed to real-life behavior, only reflective of Ball’s self-righteousness and sketchy opinions of the female body, beginning with the ‘80s setting that seems to exist for no reason other than to allow for jabs against Bush I and Desert Storm—because, you know, ragging on Bush II and his own war in Iraq is, like, sooooo 2007. Or that the sight of a man breaking a girl’s hymen is funnier and more horrifying if the girl is wearing a pair of cumbersome jean shorts, as opposed to, say, a pleated skort. Or that a modern-day setting would have necessitated Jasira to blow everyone in her school and community to smithereens, if not by the time the next-door neighbor shatters her hymen, then by the time her boyfriend tries to dump her after learning he wasn’t her first. Who cares why, anyway—just as long as the filmmaker gets his smug rocks off.

Much screen time is devoted to Jasira’s menstrual flow, specifically what she should be using to stop it, a lurid attentiveness that doesn’t so much illuminate the commodification of the female body or her father’s extreme conservatism as it allows Ball to justify a shot of Rifat (Peter Macdissi) lifting a bloody tampon from his bathroom floor. The rest of the film is in the same bilious vein: Jasira traipses to breakfast in skimpy clothes, only so she could get viciously bitch-slapped by Rifat; Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), their neighbor, digs a hole in his front yard, just so Rifat can make a crack about the army man digging for oil; and so on, etcetera and ad hominem, until we’ve all puked and Ball has collected the puke and forced it back down our throats, or frozen it like the neighbor’s cat so he can then hit us over the head with it.

Ball appears to recognize sex “as the engine for emotional frustration, the platform for social retardation,” to quote Armond White’s praise of Solondz’s Palindromes. But Ball’s intersection of racial and sexual politics is insulting, exemplified by the final scene in which Melina (Toni Collette), the hippyish neighbor who takes a vested interest in Jasira’s sexual evolution and safety that the girl’s abhorrent mother (Maria Bello) does not, gives birth to the baby you both fear and expected her to lose during the epic confrontation between the film’s characters inside her living room. Because her husband (Matt Letscher) is unable to be there at the hospital, Melina asks that Rifat, like Jasira, stay by her side, and not only does Ball imply that Jasira will be enriched by witnessing this act but he more tritely suggests that Rifat will also grow—maybe become less sexist—by watching Melina’s vagina expand and push a human life into the world.

One thing is for sure: Ball’s condescension is equal opportunity. Just as the stringent morality of Middle Eastern men gets trivially diagnosed, so too does Ball manage to slam Melina’s feminist good will after Jasira, hiding out in the woman’s house from her father, fucks her boyfriend, Thomas (Eugene Jones III), in the guest bedroom she’s staying in. Poor Thomas is also made a spectacle of, joining a choir of classroom bullies by calling Jasira a “sand nigger” before then apologizing to the girl. This is what passes for a meet-cute for Ball, who doesn’t care to elaborate on the psychology of groupthink and self-loathing that makes a black person say this to someone. Like the whole of the film, it’s a shock tactic for shock tactic’s sake.

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DVD | Soundtrack
Distributor
Warner Independent Pictures
Runtime
116 min
Rating
R
Year
2007
Director
Alan Ball
Screenwriter
Alan Ball
Cast
Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Eugene Jones III, Matt Letscher, Chase Ellison